Our fathers looked up from their whiskey talk
whenever someone smoked a foul ball down
the third base line to where, beneath two oaks,
they parked their trucks, iced coolers full of Pabst.
Even so, once, when urged to throw one back,
my father staggered grinning with the ball
then threw a perfect bullet to the mound.
The pitcher simply had to raise his glove.
That’s all it was. The game fell back to dust
and taunting leads off second, center creeping in
while in the stands nobody knew the score.
The fathers, too, went back to who they were,
men washed-up at thirty-five, without a thing
to prove, backs turned, gone deep into the night.
The poem’s opening line begins with the reality of those years, namely that my father always parked his truck near a tree down the third base line about even with where the left-fielder stood. Never one to join crowds, my father kept a cooler full of Pabst Blue Ribbon in the back of his truck, and he and a couple of his friends would watch the game from there. Sometimes they had harder stuff, sometimes homemade.
I was a pretty good baseball player, blessed with speed and good reflexes. My uncle Sammy, as the story goes, was scouted by a major league team. I never really thought of my father as the athletic type. He worked on a towboat and was typically gone every other month somewhere on the upper or lower Mississippi. Then one day someone hit a foul ball into the trees where he was parked, and he picked the ball up and stumbled out from behind his truck and threw a bullet toward the mound. In my memory, the ball never reached ten feet above the ground—no rainbow toss, as we called them—nor did the pitcher have to move from where he was perched on the mound. He just lifted his glove, and the ball sailed straight into it.
I heard a lot of “whiskey talk” as a child—slurred speech, exaggerated emotions, far-fetched stories. Telling one’s own story, one’s own memoir, leads too often, I would argue, to exaggeration, to myth, to a kind of drunk-on-self talk. Perhaps that’s why the first section of “Upon Being Asked to Write a Memoir” begins as follows:
The question’s how to build a myth of self
somewhere between the lovely truth of words
and what reality will stubbornly
Writing a memoir—something my friend Tony Earley has been trying to get me to do for almost thirty years—seems like an exercise in “build[ing] a myth of self.” This third sonnet seems to suggest that no one’s really paying attention (“nobody knew the score”) while men like my father “went back to who they were,” apparently not interested in proving anything about themselves.
What a sober idea.